The coronavirus pandemic has sent millions into social isolation amid a sense of mounting uncertainty, despair and loss, but the crisis has also reinforced or ignited religious faith in many people.
Nearly one-quarter of American adults (24 percent) report that their faith has been strengthened in the face of the pandemic, according to a Pew Research poll conducted April 20-26. In contrast, just 2 percent of respondents say their faith has weakened, while 47 percent report little change in their faith.
“The most religious Americans—those who frequently pray and attend services (at least in typical times), and who rate religion as very important to them—are far more likely than others to say their faith has grown stronger,” Pew stated in its poll.
Nearly five out of 10 U.S. adults, for example (46 percent), who reported in 2019 that they attend religious service at least once or twice monthly, now say their faith has grown stronger. The figure is nearly twice that of the 26 percent who attend services no more than a few times annually, and four times greater than the 11 percent who hardly ever or never attend.
“But even among people who are not very religious, very few say their faith has weakened,” Pew reports, adding: “Rather, most say that their level of faith hasn’t changed much or that the question isn’t applicable to them because they don’t consider themselves to be religious.”
Turning to religion for succor during the pandemic is also on the rise. According to a survey conducted in early May, a quarter of adults in the United Kingdom, for example, have viewed or listened to a religious service since the nation’s lockdown began on March 23.
“…unexpectedly high numbers of people are tuning into online or broadcast services, and 6,000 people phoned a prayer hotline in its first 48 hours of operation.”
Commissioned by the Christian aid agency Tearfund, the survey of more than 2,000 people found that about 33 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 had watched or listened to a religious service broadcast or streamed online. Just 20 percent of adults over the age of 55 did the same, by comparison.
“The Church of England has said that unexpectedly high numbers of people are tuning into online or broadcast services, and 6,000 people phoned a prayer hotline in its first 48 hours of operation,” The Guardian newspaper reports. “Other faiths have also reported surges in people engaging with online religious activities as places of worship have been closed during the lockdown.”
One in five of those who tuned into religious services recently reported never having gone to church, The Guardian reported, offering a fascinating breakdown of the most frequent subjects of prayers over the Church of England’s hotline. While family and friends were respectively the topic of prayers among 53 percent and 34 percent of callers, 20 percent prayed for someone sick with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, and 15 percent prayed for countries other than Britain battling the pandemic.
Whether the scourge is deepening religious faith, testing it or helping spark spirituality, it’s clear that religion is the focus of many people’s lives.
As Bishop Thomas Brown, head of the Episcopal Church in Maine, put it during last month’s Easter celebrations: “There are more of us in the world engaging in spiritual practice today than there were a month ago. We understand what God’s mission is for us now, which is to help stop the spread of the virus and help protect the health care workers who are taking care of us.”
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